Saturday 23 March 2019

Netflix Review: Formula 1 - Drive to Survive

A 10-part documentary series centred around Formula 1's intense 2018 season dropped on Netflix earlier this month, and like the diehard fan that I am, I couldn't wait to give it a spin. Here are my thoughts on Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

Nico Hulkenberg, Alain Prost, Carlos Sainz Jnr and
Cyril Abiteboul feature in Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
The slick series covers eight of the 10 teams on the 2018 grid, with Mercedes and Ferrari opting to sit this one out. And while this means the two biggest teams are strangely absent (Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel's title duel relegated to the fringes of the action), it does mean that the rest get more of a spotlight than they would on an average race weekend.

Rather than a retelling of the 2018 season, Drive to Survive hops back and forth, with each episode focusing on a different team, rivalry or driver. An early episode centres around Carlos Sainz Jnr and his idol Fernando Alonso, as the former looks to beat the man who inspired him to become an F1 driver. Another looks at the emotional torment of Romain Grosjean's early season slump.

There are some that feel superfluous or repetitive, such as episode nine ('Stars and Stripes') and 10 ('Crossing the Line'). These final two episodes recap or return to storylines that are explored in earlier episodes, and can't help but feel a little familiar. But when the show clicks, it really is something special.

Episode 8 ('The Next Generation') is a fantastic examination of the current wave of young drivers making their way into the sport, such as Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly. It's a moving tribute to the late Jules Bianchi, and doesn't shy away from highlighting the inherent dangers of motorsport (or the tactics employed to guard against fatality).

Episode 6 ('All or Nothing') is another that doesn't sugarcoat the cutthroat and often unfair nature of the F1 merry-go-round. The episode examines how Force India's Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon are under threat of losing their seat when Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll buys the British outfit and looks to plonk his young son Lance in their place.

Australia's Daniel Ricciardo establishes himself as the star of the show, closely followed by Haas' team principal Guenther Steiner. The latter's foul-mouthed tirades on the pitwall are raw and hilarious, showing a new side that would be censored on the sport's live feed during a race weekend. The rivalry between Renault, Red Bull, Haas and McLaren for supremacy in F1's competitive midfield is another exemplary thread – although I'm not sure Christian Horner and Max Verstappen would appreciate being painted as such as boo-worthy villains.

Would the show have benefitted from the top dogs taking part? Of course it would. Those two lacklustre episodes at the end could have explored Sebastian Vettel's implosion in the home stretch, or discussed Lewis Hamilton's jet-setting off-track lifestyle.

But that's not the fault of the filmmakers. They worked with what they had and the result is nothing short of fantastic. The level of polish is astounding, with sublime editing mashing the 21 races together into a tight and enthralling rollercoaster of crashes, drama and thrills.

It's immediately obvious to huge fans such as myself that the filmmakers have called on pundits like Jonathan Legard to provide commentary and narration after the fact, passing it off as 'live'. Some of the writing here is on-the-nose and lacks spontaneity, but for newcomers it wouldn't make a lick of difference, and works a treat in terms of stitching it all together to form one cohesive narrative.

Offering unparalleled access and insight to Formula 1's illusive paddock, Drive to Survive is a slick and accessible series that is easy to follow for newcomers to enjoy and deep enough for fans to gobble up.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive season one is available on Netflix now.

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